Electronic compliance saves time, although it will never replace a ruler

A major job for Ohio's charter school sponsors is keeping track of stuff, the kind of stuff that, if a school doesn't have it, means serious problems. Not only does a sponsor have to show up and check out schools and classrooms, but a good sponsor also needs to keep track of all the state and federally required compliance data.

Sponsors need to track and compile required paperwork and other documents covering a gamut of school functions ranging from the school academic calendar, attendance policy, blood-borne pathogen training, the lease or deed for the facility, the fixed-assets policy, academics, and governance. Sponsors also have to ensure compliance with state and federal laws and even whip out a tape measure to make sure that the American flag is not less than five feet long. They must vouch for all this to the state of Ohio and they must inform the Ohio Department of Education when something is wrong.

Fordham, which currently sponsors eight charter schools, could never have enough staff to do all that on-site combing of files, folders, and binders. Instead, we track school paperwork electronically using a computer system specifically designed to track school documents and information. Called the Authorizer Oversight Information System (AOIS), the system allows Fordham's sponsorship staff to review the documents online and report back to the schools if the paperwork or documentation is not correct. AOIS was developed by the Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University and a Michigan-based company called Corporate Computers. Fordham helped to customize the system for Ohio and developed its own calendar of expected reports and training for school personnel.

The AOIS system means much less Fordham staff time and school personnel staff time are spent tracking down papers in disparate binders and folders. All required files are available on-line whenever they are needed. Fordham still makes at least two on-site inspections to each of its schools annually. But the "checking-the-boxes" work of ensuring that copies of teaching licenses, health and safety inspections, and fire-drill logs are present is done before inspectors get there. This allows Fordham's sponsorship evaluators to spend much more time with school leaders discussing education and what would help to make the schools better.

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